NEW YORK CITY-November winds, clouds and rain outside didn’t temper talk of summer amusements in City Hall’s Blue Room as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, key agency officials, local politicians and one private developer came together Thursday to announce ambitious plans for Brooklyn’s storied Coney Island. The city will buy 6.9 acres of Coney Island land from Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities for around $95.6 million. Starting Friday, the city will begin the search for developers and operators, rides included, for a “first-phase amusement park” on a portion of the city-owned sites.

The city is buying three waterfront parcels, creating what it says will be a 12.5-acre outdoor amusement park within a newer 27-acre amusement and entertainment district. More specifically, the plan, approved by the City Council last July, would preserve and grow the historic amusement area, while creating a mixed-use neighborhood that includes 5,000 new units of housing, of which the city says 900 will be income-targeted units.

A spokesman for the New York City Economic Development Corp. tells that the new rides would be in place by next May. Also attending the press conference: Rep. Jerrold Nadler; City Council member Domenic M. Recchia, who represents Coney Island; Assemblyman Alec Brook Krasny; Carlo Scissura, who represented Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz; New York City Planning Commission chair Amanda Burden; State Sen. Diane J. Savino, NYCEDC president Seth Pinsky; deputy mayor Robert Lieber; and Thor Equities CEO Sitt.

Sitt tells that he’s very excited about the new deal. “While it will all take time and patience,” since “it’s many years out, we’re excited in terms of what this will do for our ability to build hotels, retail, etc.,” he says.

According to the NYU Furman Center’s PLANYC, in 2006 developer Sitt and his company Thor Equities bought 11 acres of boardwalk land with the intention of building a $1.5-billion entertainment zone to attract residents to the area. Thor had reportedly hoped to break ground by mid-2008, but ran into conflicts with the city particularly over a proposed luxury housing component, which Burden had said would be inappropriate for the area.

Meanwhile, Sitt, who’d argued that luxury housing was a key to financing amusements, was also unable to come to a lease agreement with Astroland Park’s owner, Carol Albert. That park closed in September 2008. Then, earlier this year, Sitt bought another three acres that the city had reportedly wanted to buy, which some say increased his leverage during negotiations.

The talks between Thor and the city were described as “tough” by the developer and all the officials at the press conference, although there was general agreement that it had been a win-win situation.

From the city’s end, Lieber handled the talks that led to the $95- million deal. Bloomberg told the audience that some observers thought this day would never arrive. He added that the agreement is the “last piece of the puzzle,” and by “next summer, Coney Island will be back in a big way.”<P<The coming back is the challenge that many Coney Island residents, and current local business owners, hope will finally be met on the storied South Brooklyn peninsula–home to 50,000 New Yorkers, in addition to its very famous hotdog stand as well as a bone-rattling, 100-year-old wooden roller-coaster called the Cyclone. Once an East Coast destination and home to three amusement parks–the largest of which, Steeplechase, closed in 1964–Coney Island still draws millions to its beaches every summer.

“I’m delighted this is finally happening,” says Dick Zigun, founder of the Coney Island Museum. “It’s very important for Coney Island that the city follow through on its plan. This is the first of a few steps.” Zigun tells that “it’s crucial the city do it’s due diligence with commitments it made to Coney Island at the time of rezoning, because it’s only after the city spends its money that private development is going to come and complete the job.”

In an effort to foster development, the city will also invest over $150 million, along with millions more in state and federal money, to improve Coney Island’s infrastructure, including underground infrastructure, the rebuilding of large stretches of the boardwalk and the construction of a new Steeplechase Plaza.

An EDC spokesperson tells that obviously, “we’re looking to grow the area, to bring in increased diversity in Coney West and Coney North, make it stronger, and that in itself, will help flood those areas year round.”

Zigun, who’s been working in Coney Island for 30 years, says “this past summer season was the worst” he’s seen. He tells “everyone should break ground yesterday, and start rebuilding Coney Island for the 21st century.”

During the Q&A after the City Hall announcement, Anthony Berlingieri, 10-year owner of boardwalk amusement “Shoot the Freak,” told officials he was “all for” the redevelopment. He added, however, that he hopes “to be a part of it.”

To that, Pinsky said, the city’s intention is to keep all tenants in place, “for the foreseeable future, certainly through next summer,” and that the city will be “looking to work with each of them to figure out where it makes sense for various tenants to remain.”

For now, sources close to the city say a best-case scenario entails 12 acres of open air amusements, anything from rides to restaurants, while the 18 other acres are available for both open and closed amusements. Think Madame Tussaud’s, movie theatres or Hard Rock Café Coney Island.

And, those same sources say, a hotel has been on South Brooklyn’s wish list for quite a while. Travelers, who might have a one-night layover, may want to stay over on Coney Island, but as it stands now, there’s no place for them to lodge.

Still some groups are worried about the current amusement reservation, arguing that it should be even larger. For example, while praising the “critical first step” taken by the city, the group Save Coney Island calls the 12 acres the city acquired “narrow” and “squeezed in by a proposed multi-story entertainment mall, and blocked off by a wall of proposed high rise hotels rising up to 27 stories.”

The group adds, “Unless the city purchases the rest of Thor Equities’ land, a large portion of the amusement area will remain subject to the whims of real estate speculation and the future of Coney Island will remain at risk.”

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